Emily Wells wants fans to take their time listening to “Promise”


New York City-based artist Emily Wells might be widely known as a violinist, but her arsenal extends well beyond the fiddle. In addition to the myriad instruments she plays, she is also a producer and composer and is launching her own imprint Thesis & Instinct with the release of her new full-length album, Promise, out January 29th.

image00photos by Shervin Lainez

Emily’s thoughtful and intentional method of creation is obvious even on a first listen through the album. While certainly not pop, Emily’s deeply layered baroque sound has the earworm quality of the best bubblegum. There’s a push and pull to the music that evince a relatable struggle. We all have our unique ways of getting through our days, our meditations and compromises.

On Promise, Emily has provided her audience with a lens into her own inner dialogue. There’s an incredibly intimate vulnerability in that and a softness that comes with that she embraces fully, trusting her audience with herself.

We caught up with Emily while she’s back home in New York hard at work arranging her upcoming tour.

AfterEllen.com: As a multi-instrumentalist and vocalist, can you walk me through how a song comes together for you?

Emily Wells: It varies. You have the knowledge that you might one day have to perform this thing. For me, that’s been part of my subconscious for the last several years when writing songs because I am a solo performer who’s trying to convey ideas of production through my performance. I tried really hard on this last album not to let that affect the writing itself—so if I wanted to write a seven-minute song and veer off to be more compositional, I went for it on this album in a way that I wasn’t quite allowing myself to do in the past records.

Essentially, now, I have a lot of work to do in the next six weeks on a few songs figuring out how to convey them live. But with any work of art, I think the thing that often sparks it is something very simple. It could be a conversation, even in passing. It could be something you overhear. It could be something you read; a cheesy line in a movie—anything could really move you. The song develops around that thing that’s what makes the specific and the general come together.


AE: What does it mean to you to be releasing Promise on your own label, Thesis & Instinct?

EW: I hope that Thesis & Instinct can become more of a collective than just a mechanism to put out albums. I have a couple of solo artists in mind whose work I’d like to release. I don’t believe in other people owning the copyrights of the originator of the work. For me that was a big part of it, wanting to hold the copyright. My best friend had a great analogy for me because it felt kind of dirty being so conscious putting out an album and all the mechanisms that you have to go through, how you promote it and where you spend money and all of these things. She said it’s really more honest—it’s like killing the chicken instead of buying it at the supermarket. In short, putting out my own album is me killing the chicken. It feels great.

I think being a solo artist is weird. It’s really weird, and we really long for bandmates, but we don’t have them. I would love for this to be a way to be like almost having a band through helping other people release albums and thinking of great tours that feel like a curated night as opposed to just throwing on an opener.


AE: How should Promise be consumed, whatever your take on consumption might be?

EW: I definitely tried to consider the album as a whole. I thought a lot about it when I was putting the songs in order, I didn’t write it as a concept album or anything. I also didn’t write it in the order it’s presented, but I did eliminate many songs from the album in order to give it the roundness it has. It’s not a pop record, nor is it necessarily an easy record. I definitely tried to allow myself to be brave when I made it, to trust the audience to take their time with it. I guess that’s all I would ask is that you take your time when you listen to it in whatever way it works best for you to do that. If that’s one song at a time or the whole record. For me I got really into running like three or four years ago, so making this record I was running the whole time so for me that’s another good way to listen—running.


AE: Can you tell me a bit about the album cover?

EW: There’s a pair of Spanish artists called Cabello/Carceller who are incredible. They’ve done a lot of work on gender, on being queer and female and feminism. They’re just total badasses. I didn’t know their work until I saw what is now the album cover in a book and was just like I love this, I love this so much. Then I read about what the picture was about. It’s from an installation in 1998 depicting when they had gone to San Francisco. These two queer, cute, cuties from Spain being like, “Let’s go check out this mecca.” And they got there and they were really disappointed. They thought it was going to be this queer bliss thing and instead it was just San Francisco in the late ‘90s. They ended up taking all these photographs of the work of this architect named Julia Morgan, who was one of the first female architects in California to ever be certified. She was often hired because she was incredibly talented, but also because she was cheap because she was a woman. She got to work on the Hearst Castle and all these other great projects in California.

On the cover of the album you’ll see there’s this architectural room and then there’s also a high dive that’s being projected. Cabello/Carceller took these photographs as kind of an homage to her, but also wanted to take photos of abandoned sites of pleasure. I love this notion of going to this gay mecca and realizing it had changed and why has it changed and the trauma that San Francisco had experienced in the ‘80s. It was an incredible piece that they made. And then many years later I saw it in a book and wrote to them, just saying that I loved the picture, and I’d love to use it. They wrote me back a couple of weeks later and said they had connected with my music and gave it to me to use as I wished. There was this camaraderie with us immediately.

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